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Climate Change: Build A Sustainable Future

India reaffirms commitment to move away from coal-based energy at UN climate change conference in Bonn

Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee


India, though not a high emitter of greenhouse gases historically (looking at cumulative emissions), does have one of the highest rates of greenhouse emissions now. At the 2015 Paris Agreement, India has set ambitious targets, which constituted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), where it vowed to reduce emission intensity by 33-35 per cent of its 2005 levels, and make 40 per cent of the population dependent on renewable energy by 2030.

Considering that 300 million people in India lack access to electricity, and coal still remains the largest provider of electricity in India, significant strides will need to be taken by India to match its targets committed in the Paris Agreements. India has also vowed to add 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, hence the next five years are crucial for addressing the extent to which India can reach its NDC targets, and reaffirm its commitment to the Paris Agreements, which was a major point of discussion at the COP 23 meeting held from November 6-17.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference incorporated the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), the 13th meeting of the parties for the Kyoto Protocol (CMP13), and the second meeting of the parties for the Paris Agreement (CMA2). Held at the UN Campus at Bonn, Germany, the conference was a gathering of international political leaders and activists to discuss and implement plans to combat climate change, especially the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind – it will determine the wellbeing of all of us,”  said German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (who as environment minister earlier, had chaired the first climate summit 23 years ago), to nations gathered at the climate summit. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, told the gathering in Bonn of his visit to the Caribbean s after the recent hurricanes. “The catastrophic damage of climate change is upon us and when the frontline is devastated, the whole army is lost,” he said, railing against the $825 billion invested in fossil fuels in 2016. “We must stop making bets on an unsustainable future,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been among the biggest critics of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris deal, got the loudest applause when he committed France and European partners to filling the funding gap for the UN’s climate science panel, left by the US withdrawal. “They will not miss a single euro. The fight against climate change is, by far, the most significant struggle of our times.”

Regarding India’s participation in the conference, Marina Walter, India Country Director at UNDP, said, “In India, Prime Minister Modi has already indicated that the country will go ‘above and beyond’ the Paris agreement, with a call to action: We must leave for our future generations a climate wherein they can breathe clean air and have a healthy life’.” Developing countries like India will suffer the most from the impact of climate change. However, the main concern for India is that limiting greenhouse gas emissions will interfere with its growth.
The pre-2020 climate action was a major source of contention at the conference. Developing countries, such as China and India, were particularly irked that pre-2020 action did not have a formal space on the COP23 agenda. At first, although many developed countries dismissed these demands, in the end they conceded, and pre-2020 ambition and implementation formed a major part of the COP23 decision text.

While stressing that it would take time to achieve the targets, India’s Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan, reaffirmed India’s commitment to moving away from coal-based energy systems. “Steps are being taken to de-couple the Indian energy system from carbon in the long run. However, poverty eradication remains an overriding priority for us as we strive to ensure housing, electricity and food security for all,” he said in his address to heads of state and ministers, even though India did not sign the phasing-out of the coal agreement.

“India managed to advance pre-2020 climate actions despite strong resistance from the developed countries. However, indecisiveness on climate finance reporting at COP23 prevented any progress on enhanced transparency requirements. This could be a major deterrent at COP24 when the Paris Rulebook has to be finalised,” says Vaibhav Gupta, Senior Programme Lead, CEEW. “COP23 saw India’s effective negotiation to seek EU and other developed nations’ partnerships to access technology, which will go a long way in helping meet the sustainable development goals,” says Dipankar Ghosh, Partner and Leader for Sustainability and Climate Change at Thinkthrough Consulting.

The US government’s role at the conference, the big moments emerging in the realm of climate risk assurance (despite some ambiguity) and the deadlines looming in 2018, were the key takeaways from this summit.